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Written by Jane Kellogg Murray

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Across the Lone Star state, cities are gearing up to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with parades, live mariachi music, traditional Mexican foods, and more. The holiday—which commemorates Mexico’s unlikely victory over invading French forces during the Battle of Puebla in 1862—is an integral part of the culture of Texas, which was once part of Mexico from 1821-1836. While the meaning of the holiday these days can easily be lost (our neighbors to the south primarily commemorate the battle through military ceremonies), Texans use the day to celebrate Mexican-American culture. Find an event near you below.

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Welcome to the first weekend of May. Before the dog days of summer are here, Texans can head to Port Neches for RiverFest, Brenham for Maifest, New Braunfels for Wein and Saengerfest, and Cinco de Mayo festivities across the state.

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At dusk nearly every night in summer, the hot muggy air encompassing downtown Austin suddenly fills with 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats—forming what resembles a torrential hurricane as they pour out from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and take off across the river. Tourists line up daily on and around the bridge—some setting up picnics, some in canoes or balancing on stand-up paddleboards on the water—to catch a glimpse of the colony as it takes flight. And on August 19, the city aims to celebrate its winged residents with Bat Fest, an annual festival on the bridge. The family-friendly event offers children’s activities, a batty costume contest, and live music from Blue October, American Authors, Warren G, Puddle of Mudd, and others. While the day’s activities are well planned, the timing of the bats’ flight is not (they’re wild animals, after all). Experts predict their emergence to occur sometime between 7 and 8:45 p.m. and last for half an hour.

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Start your engines and head to Lake Marble Falls, whose calm, warm waters will once again transform into a veritable racetrack for the LakeFest Drag Boat RacesAugust 11-13. More than a hundred boats will reach speeds of more than 260 mph as they race across this reservoir on a bend in the Colorado River for the 26th consecutive year. As racers take to their boats each day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the banks of the lake turn into a lake party, with a special treat for spectators beginning after dusk: a free concert at the Johnson Park Amphitheater. While there, fans can see the boats up close, take photos with their favorites, and meet the drivers. On Sunday, the winners drive away with more than $100,000 in prizes.

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Homemade peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach juleps, peach tea—you can find it all at the Parker County Peach Festival in Weatherford July 8The one-day event draws some 35,000 people to the city, named in 1991 by the state legislature as the Peach Capital of Texas, for a taste of summer’s juiciest crop. Stroll the streets of historic downtown Weatherford while enjoying more than 200 booths filled with arts and crafts, fair foods like funnel cake and turkey legs, and kids’ activities; live music; the Peach Pedal bike ride; and a Texas 42 domino tournament.

 

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In most places, to be called “mosquito legs” would be considered an insult. But skinny stems are a prize-worthy commodity in Clute, home of the Great Texas Mosquito Festival (and its annual Mosquito Legs competition). The 37th annual event, July 27-29, celebrates the summer nuisance in style with the help of Willie-Man-Chew, a 26-foot-tall mosquito dressed in a cowboy hat and boots, who greets thousands of visitors as they enter Clute Municipal Park. Festival organizers—who cleverly call themselves the “Swat Team”—plan three full days of events, including carnival rides, the mosquito chase (a 5K race), barbecue and fajita cook-offs, horseshoe and washer throwing tournaments, games, and live entertainment to cap off each evening from the likes of Jack Ingram, Rodney Atkins, the Spazmatics, and Parmalee. The buzziest sight, perhaps, is the Mosquito Calling competition, where for some maniacal reason, contestants vie to summon the biggest bloodsucker in town.

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Cutting through the heart of the Panhandle, Palo Duro Canyon State Park—the second-largest canyon in the country, falling behind that grand one in Arizona—holds a rich history in its deep walls. Thousands of generations of people have lived in this spectacular landscape: Geologists have found evidence that humans called the canyon home as far back as 15,000 years ago. In more recent centuries, the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa tribes all fought many battles over this precious territory, including their last stand against the U.S. military in 1874. When these Native American tribes were pushed out to reservations in Oklahoma, settlers began moving in, including Charles Goodnight—inventor of the chuckwagon—who drove more than a thousand cattle into the canyon in 1876. Every summer for more than five decades, the canyon walls have set the stage for an outdoor musical drama that aims to tell the stories of these Native American struggles and 19th-century pioneers. TEXAS returns to the canyon’s Pioneer Amphitheatre for its 53rd season June 2-August 19, with a special holiday show July 3. Over the years, the musical has seen more than 4,000 cast and crewmembers; many in this year’s iteration have been performing the same character for decades. It’s theater for the people—especially the outdoor-loving Texans who otherwise might not feel comfortable going into a traditional theater to see a musical production. But more than anything, it plays out the drama of Texas history in a setting like no other.

 

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When the weather reaches triple digits, spend a weekend floating the lazy San Marcos River and enjoying one of the most unique music festivals in the state. On July 22–23, the fourth annual Float Fest will take over Cool River Ranch’s 220-acre riverfront property in Martindale. Campers are invited to check in a day early to ease congestion as people make their way in and out of town—last year’s event brought in an estimated 10,000 ticketholders. A supercharged lineup this year includes Weezer, MGMT, Passion Pit, and Texas-bred musicians like Neon Indian, Walker Lukens, and Wild Child.

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If you thought nothing else could shut down Austin like South by Southwest, you’ve likely never been in town during the Republic of Texas Biker Rally—billed as the largest ticketed motorcycle rally in the nation with riders of all types drawn to the capital city for a weekend of camaraderie, camping, and concerts. For the 22nd annual event, the city will close off 54 square blocks as more than 200,000 people—and some 40,000 bikers—head to Congress Avenue June 8-11 for a huge kick-off party, during which an 11-mile parade downtown gets a friendly police escort (on motorcycles, no less). The ROT Rally will see its largest music festival yet with more than 30 bands slated to perform throughout the weekend, including Joe Ely, Billy Joe Shaver, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Yeah, it’ll definitely be loud. But decked out in their denim and leather glory, these bikers are a pretty spectacular sight to see. 

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What’s better than enjoying a nice summer day watching baseball? Watching the game while floating in a lazy river, perhaps. The Frisco RoughRiders are set to host this year’s Texas League All-Star Game at Dr Pepper Ballpark on June 27—pitting teams from the league’s North and South divisions, comprised of the top prospects from the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, the Kansas City Royals, and five other Major League Baseball teams. The game will mark the third time Frisco has hosted after welcoming sellout crowds of more than 10,000 fans for the event in 2005 and 2009. But this time, the ballpark offers a new amenity: the opportunity to watch the action from a cool vantage point—from an inner tube floating in the stadium’s new $1.5 million Choctaw Lazy River. The 3,000 square foot pool, just beyond right field, is shaped like a figure eight with a gentle current and holds more than 68,000 gallons of water. It’s a whole new ballgame.

 

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For such a small town—a 2010 census revealed just 90 full-time residents—Round Top is home to an unlikely music series. Every summer since 1971, the Round Top Music Festival has curated a world-class series of classical concerts, considered one of the most well-curated music festivals in the nation, housed since 2007 in the acoustically stunning Festival Concert Hall. This year, 90 applicants were accepted to perform the six-week program (June 4–July 16) out of hundreds of applicants from more than 23 countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Nigeria, Japan, and Finland. And each week, the orchestra will train with guest conductors hailing from across the globe as well—China, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Israel, Serbia, and Austria in addition to the United States. The worldly festival owes its existence to founder and artistic director James Dick, who will perform Beethoven’s “Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano” on June 10 and Chopin’s “Concerto No. 1” on July 15.

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Lockhart’s Chisholm Trail Roundup is a western weekend 45 years in the making. The city’s largest annual festival attracts some 30,000 people each year on the second weekend of June for this cowboy celebration, which falls on June 8-10 this year. Visitors are encouraged to dust off their cowboy hats and put on their boots to get in the spirit for the events, which includes a full rodeo, a grand parade, gunfight reenactments, cowboy breakfasts, and live music from the Bellamy Brothers, Reckless Kelly, Nathan Colt Young, and Justin Trevino. And seeing as it’s set in the Barbecue Capital of Texas, the festivities wouldn’t be complete without a cook-off, June 2-3

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